WiFi controlled Wall Clock

Tuesday, January 2. 2007

I'm going to try to shorten my blog entries' initial lengths and place any extra content in the article's dedicated page from now on. This will allow me to keep more articles on the main page and have a cleaner looking site.

Our Director walked in to our office today and took note of my RF/GPS Atomic Clock that's sitting on the mantle. I had originally brought it in to test the temperature of the office to figure out the problem with the heating/cooling settings to prove that there's a problem, but that's not the point here... In our library, we have used RF/GPS Atomic clocks for a majority of our building's clocks. Unfortunately, anyone that's ever owned an Atomic clock knows that they are not the greatest at keeping time. In fact, they sometimes grab the wrong time.

Well, in noticing the inherent problem with these types of clocks, the director asked me if I knew of any WiFi controlled wall clocks. I didn't know of any, but presumed there must be something out there that can take this into account. I mean, the Atomic clock I have here has buttons and switches on the back of it to set the timezone, daylight savings preference, and a way to set the time itself in case it can't get a clear signal.

Okay, so one would surely think that a hardware based WiFi clock exists - the only thing that needs to be set differently in this type of clock over the GPS/RF clock would be the NTP server it should use (so it's selectable, input enabled, or hardwired to a specific set of possibilities). That doesn't seem too hard.

Considering school buildings and businesses can spend upwards of $40,000 to purchase a single system that controls their clocks from a central location, wouldn't it be easier to just simply purchase the clocks themselves and not worry about anything else? The NTP server, if needed to be controlled centrally, could always be the organization's own server, so long as the NTP server could be set in the clock (firmware modification/upgrade over WiFi using something like the WakeOnLan packet syntax structure?).

Okay, from all my rambling you've probably realized that I've not found anything that can do this. The Atomic clocks can be found in extremely cheap retail stores for anywhere between $3 and $30, depending on quality. Similar business style clocks are selling for approximately $120. I'm not even going to list the price of the centrally controlled clock systems.

So, anyone out there that can do circuitboard programming interested in a new marketing venture? We certainly wouldn't mind being a test-bed for the clock, and I would relearn assembly level programming to assist in any way I could.

However, if this has already been created and someone knows (or has been able to find) one, please, PLEASE link me to it!

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    #1 James on 01/02/07 at 11:13 AM [Reply]
    This is when someone like me just thinks... "why not use a watch?"

    As ever, your entry has me stumped. :)
    #1.1 Brendon on 01/02/07 at 01:52 PM [Reply]
    For a few reasons, actually.

    Let's say you were hired out to do some contractual work for some super huge corporate big-time boss. You walk into the lobby ahead of schedule, about 20 minutes early because you want to be sure you're on time. However, you also know some people prefer precise timeliness rather than being overly early, so you wait in the lobby for 15 minutes, giving yourself enough leeway time to make it up to his specific floor and secretary to let him know you're there - you use the building's lobby clock as a time estimation because your clock (your cellphone) is set using satellites, you figure you're safer using the organization's time system.

    When you walk up there, you waited so you had 2-3 minutes to spare showing that you were early, but not too early, and you did not have a "rushed" look on your face. But, lo and behold, the clock in that specific office is 13 minutes faster than the clock in the lobby! You're now late! That boss happened to be a very punctuality minded person, and as it was your first in-person meeting date to discuss the work, your timeliness has made him decide not to hire you without even seeing your work; and it wasn't even technically your fault (although I'm sure in this example you'd be kicking yourself for not just showing up overly early).

    This is a simplified (although overly exaggerated) example. There are other reasons as to why clocks should just synchronize in an organization. For a library, it helps us to get people out of the library all around the same time. Patrons don't realize that when the library is closed, we literally are closed. Staff don't sit around "closing shop" for the next hour or two like a retail store - we're waiting for them to leave so we too can go home. (At least that's how it is here.) If a clock is 10 minutes slow, that ends up meaning that patrons will usually be in the library about 20 minutes after we're actually closed, and the doors locked up.
    #1.1.1 Sid Langford on 02/29/08 at 12:47 PM [Reply]
    Primex will be releasing a WiFi solution sometime this year...
    #1.1.1.1 Brendon Kozlowski on 03/01/08 at 09:54 PM [Reply]
    Thank you very much for the information, Sid! As of yet we have not decided on a solution.
    #2 Will on 01/16/08 at 09:53 AM [Reply]
    Indeed that would be a great idea, however I see one problem, power. It would be pretty much impossible to run a wifi receiver on the typical one or two AA cells that you expect a clock to need.

    So AC power is needed. Once you have to get a wire to the clock, why not drop the wifi in favor of a POE Ethernet connection. These are available (as digital clocks, not your traditional clock face unfortunately) from an outfit in England, don't know th e price. It should be possible to the the cost well under $100 -- Just as a comparison, the $110 Polycom IP phones that we are currently deploying in my own company contain an NTP client to synchronize their time display. That is everything you need and a phone too. :-)

    (If you want to talk further, email me at will(insert at sign here)rhythm(insert dot here)com
    #2.1 Brendon Kozlowski on 01/16/08 at 12:05 PM [Reply]
    Will, thanks for the comment. I'll talk to my boss about that and see if he's still interested in taking this idea further. The plan was scrapped and long forgotten back then, and we have a new head honcho, but it may still very well be something we would want to look into.
    #3 Richard Mechelke on 07/24/08 at 11:40 AM [Reply]
    Primex Wireless launched Synchronous Network System, a WiFi Clock system on July 21, 2008.
    #4 Brendon Kozlowski on 07/25/08 at 08:04 AM [Reply]
    Richard Mechelke, thank you for the update on your company's release schedule. I am uncertain whether we are still looking for such a solution, but having information is still a very powerful thing and I appreciate your effort to inform. We will definitely take a look at it, at the very least. Thank you again.

    Edit: We're in touch with a local sales representative to have a field-test done in our building's infrastructure. Thanks again.
    #5 Peptulis on 03/20/09 at 04:34 AM [Reply]
    Hi,

    maybe do you know something about analog radio controlled for Europe (DCF77/MSF/HSB) (wallmount) clock in which I could set UTC (Universal Time Cordinates) and others. I would like to use it in our ham radio operators club whe we use universal time UTC. I know of such clocks with ethernet interface, but they are terrible expensive. If you know something send me any information on my email box (email removed)

    Regards

    Peptulis
    #6 Ronda on 04/02/09 at 08:27 AM [Reply]
    Brendon,

    I just found your post and I'm wondering what you ended up with? Did you buy a wi-fi clock system?
    #7 Brendon Kozlowski on 04/02/09 at 09:09 AM [Reply]
    We have not. We got so far as to get a quote from a company which (I think?) seemed reasonable (I wasn't part of the product tour/quote "stuff"). Unfortunately it was deemed to be far too expensive in comparison to simply continuing to buy batteries for our wholesale store-bought "satellite/radio" controlled atomic clocks (which, because we are in a brick building, don't typically sync well). I guess that since most service desks have a computer which all have the accurate time displayed, the extra expense wasn't worth it.

    I see you work for American Time and Signal, so I will inform my boss of yet another alternative - though I can't guarantee it will go anywhere. If you make commission on sales, reply here and if we do proceed (big "if"), we'll be in touch.
    #8 John T. on 04/04/09 at 04:54 PM [Reply]
    Folks,
    I'm also trying to find the WLAN equivalent of the radio-synch'd clocks. I live in Australia where we have Daylight/Standard time changes through the year, but the government here doesn't (formally) support the radio time synch infrastructure.

    Primex seems like the right idea, but waaaay over the top (cost, complexity) for my requirements.

    One other possiblity (at least I'm hoping it's possible) is to have a low power, short-range transmitter of my own, which I can synch to NIST or similar, and then just buy some radio-enabled clocks from Europe.

    Thanks
    JT
    #9 Brendon Kozlowski on 04/06/09 at 08:32 AM [Reply]
    John,
    I'd love to find something very inexpensive that can be controlled on our own. We have all of the equipment and networking ready to support it, but unfortunately we don't have an engineer to help us create something - this is where the other companies come in to play...and can charge a large sum of money. If you're able to find something, please let us know. Unfortunately I have not yet found anything online.
    #10 Sid Langford on 04/21/09 at 02:10 PM [Reply]
    Just to let you know we were a beta site for the system from Primex. We were able to gain NASA approval to implement and with the high NASA expectations the system has performed very well.

    A couple of outstanding points is the email notification when the clock have problem - such as low battery or low signal. Another huge benefit especially because we are always asked to provide certain metrics is the report generation.

    As far as costing do the evaluation against other GPS Clock Systems you will find the cost to be around 50% less. For us it was a great alternative.

    We are considering Power adapters to provide power from an AC source - but the clock have two Lithium-ion "DD" cell with a life expectance of 4-7 years.
    #11 Brendon Kozlowski on 04/21/09 at 02:40 PM [Reply]
    Thank you, Sid. I appreciate your feedback. I believe the first (and only) salesman we had in here was from Primex. I asked my boss, and it looks like this "project" (for us) has been forgotten, and put on the bottom end of a long list of things we should do, but probably never will.
    #12 guest on 05/31/10 at 07:53 AM [Reply]
    For anyone else who comes across these posts, try searching for NTP clocks
    #13 Daghead on 10/13/11 at 10:21 AM [Reply]
    I was just thinking about this. I would never have a wall clock at my own house, but the restaurant I work for has two cheap analogues. Obviously they eventually go slow or fast, and the batteries run out and become confusing. Someone I know told me about a conference room full of problematic analogues showing the world's times just to look fancy.

    Someone needs to invent a digital clock that kills all of these problems once and for all for ~$50. The most expensive component would be a cheapie keyboard so one could press "passkey", punch in the target wifi router's passkey, and press enter. If its digital, it can also display "battery low" in the corner for a few days before replacement is needed, and shut right off when performance would become dodgy.
    #13.1 Brendon Kozlowski on 10/14/11 at 06:58 AM [Reply]
    I'm surprised no one has made one yet with an Arduino kit. I looked last night. Closest I could find was a homemade "wireless" (radio waves, not 802.11) clock that was similar to the $7 ones you find in Walmart.

    I'd imagine the schematics could be adjusted to work with a wireless receiver, but I'd unfortunately have little clue on how to go about doing that.
    #14 Adam Thomas on 12/01/11 at 02:07 PM [Reply]
    Hi Brendon,

    I had exactly the same idea while sat in a meeting today. There were two clocks on the wall and they were both different. Although digital clocks have their place, it would be nice to still have the mechanics of an analogue clock while keeping an accurate time from the internet.

    I look into it as it ties closely with another project I'm working on, I'll let you know how it goes.
    #14.1 Brendon Kozlowski on 12/01/11 at 04:50 PM [Reply]
    That would be awesome, Adam. Please do, thanks!
    #14.2 Nathan B on 12/18/11 at 04:26 AM [Reply]
    Amazing, I also just had this idea today. I agree that there's something nice about the mechanics of an analogue clock.
    I have an Arduino collecting dust at the moment, so I might add a wifi shield and hack apart the wall clock in my kitchen...
    My idea is to keep the original clock mechanism intact, but switch on the Arduino every time the clock reaches 12:00. The ardunio would then fetch the time from an NTP server and adjust the time accordingly, perhaps by altering the clock's voltage. It would also check the battery level and send an email if it drops below 10%.

    Just some ideas :)
    #14.2.1 Brendon Kozlowski on 02/24/12 at 08:07 AM [Reply]
    That would be awesome, if for nothing else than just to see how you did it! :D
    #15 Jeremy on 02/23/12 at 09:30 PM [Reply]
    We are getting ready to release a full line of both analog and digital clock wifi synced clocks. Analog clocks will be priced just above our atomic line, and lower than our onsite wireless gps or ntp synced time systems. We are in the final development stages and testing, about 2 months out. You may contact me for further information at jeremy@franklinclock.com.
    #15.1 Brendon Kozlowski on 02/24/12 at 08:08 AM [Reply]
    I very well may be in touch with you. Thank you for your comment, Jeremy.
    #16 Laurence on 11/15/12 at 05:17 PM [Reply]
    Just wondering if any one knows of a USB powered and controlled clock, just recently brought my own house and rather than stick indivdual clocks around the place which will mean different times in different rooms as their speed changes, I was looking at mounting displays in specific points around the house hooked into a USB cable running through the wall back to a computer stack. All the displays would show the time that the computer is set to which would mean every display is exactly the same down to the second as they are all getting the same time from the same feed.

    Thanks.

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